The vote in the Daily Chronicle newsroom for the top story of the year was close.
It should come as no surprise, given Northern Illinois University’s cultural and economic impact on DeKalb County, that the top two stories touched the campus. They aren’t related news issues, but one did signify an ending; the other, a beginning.
Skimming over the top 10 list, you’ll see that we celebrated new leadership roles, with Douglas Baker becoming NIU’s 12th president and DeKalb voters electing John Rey mayor. We celebrated athletic achievements, with NIU’s football team competing in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, and Jordan Lynch finishing third in the Heisman voting in December.
Not all the news was good, of course. Aside from the FBI searching NIU’s police station, we saw DeKalb resident Billy Curl accept a plea agreement for murdering NIU student Toni Keller, only to try (so far, unsuccessfully) to undo the agreement.
For the second year in a row, we offered viewers of our website, Daily-Chronicle.com, the opportunity to choose their top 10 stories.
Online readers were less excited about Baker, ranking his appointment as No. 10, and much more excited about Jordan Lynch, placing his success with NIU’s football team as the top story of the year.
Our readers also emphasized Sycamore High School’s football team winning its first Northern Illinois Big 12 East title and the search for Buddy, the dog that went missing after a car crash in DeKalb.
Perhaps Buddy’s return will be a contender for the top story in 2014.
1. FBI searches NIU police station
FBI agents arrived at NIU’s police station about 8 a.m. March 6 and worked throughout the day, removing police records dating back to January 2005. They were joined by state police and officials from the U.S. Education Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.
The search warrant itself, which NIU released days later, included mostly general language but also demanded “all communications between Donald P. Grady and Eddie R. Williams relating to Eden’s Gardens.”
Grady was police chief at NIU until he was fired from his $200,000-a-year job Feb. 19. Williams, NIU’s chief of operations and executive vice president of finance and facilities, took a leave of absence after the search, returning for a few days before retiring in May.
The FBI has not publicly announced the results of its investigation.
2. Douglas Baker named new NIU president
Baker officially replaced John Peters as NIU president July 1, but he arrived on campus weeks earlier to begin meeting with students and his leadership team.
In public speeches, Baker emphasized student career success and the university partnering with DeKalb and other area communities. In his first months on the job, he hired a new police chief and athletic director, overhauled the budget and management structure and created an international affairs division.
3. Corn Fest returns to downtown DeKalb
DeKalb’s annual Corn Fest returned to a familiar location on a new weekend. After spending five years at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, the music and community festival returned to downtown DeKalb and was held on Labor Day weekend, a week later than usual. Heavy rain delayed the start of the festival’s first day, but organizers passed out 15,000 ears of corn in about three hours at the corn boil the next day.
4. Billy Curl sentenced to 37 years for murder of Antinette Keller
In April, William “Billy” Curl, 37, of DeKalb, entered a special plea agreement in which he maintained his innocence but acknowledged prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered NIU freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller in 2010. He is serving a 37-year prison sentence in Menard Correctional Center.
Curl had 30 days to try to withdraw the plea agreement, but he did not file the appropriate paperwork until July 22, more than three months later. DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert declined to extend that deadline, a decision Curl is appealing.
5. Jordan Lynch finishes third in Heisman voting
The Huskies senior quarterback turned in a season to remember for NIU. When it was all over, Lynch had compiled 4,812 total yards and 47 touchdowns and led the Huskies to a 12-2 record. Lynch’s gaudy stats made him a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. This month, he was the first NIU player to attend the award ceremony in New York City, finishing third in the national voting.
6. DeKalb library expansion plan receives larger grant
DeKalb Public Library leaders first were surprised to learn they received an $8.5 million state grant to expand the library. Then, they were surprised to discover state officials could increase the grant to $11.6 million, so long as local officials could find the matching funds.
They did, and construction to add 46,000 square feet to the 83-year-old Haish Memorial Library, 309 Oak St., is expected to start this spring, with the addition opening in July 2015.
7. Landfill expansion clear to proceed
Waste Management will add enough capacity at its Cortland landfill to increase its daily trash intake from 300 tons to 1,800 tons. Construction is expected to start this spring after a legal battle that started in 2010 ended in May with the Illinois Supreme Court declining to hear opponents’ appeal. County officials also plan to use fees associated with the landfill expansion to add capacity at the county jail.
8. NIU, DeKalb host state high school football championships
Almost 30,000 fans flocked to Huskie Stadium in late November for the two-day state high school football championships. NIU and DeKalb beat out their counterparts at Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to host the championships in odd-numbered years through 2021. The host committee raised more than $230,000 and gathered more than 200 volunteers to support the inaugural effort.
9. NIU’s football team competed in the Orange Bowl
The Huskies 2012-13 campaign culminated with a week in south Florida that ended in the school’s first appearance in a BCS bowl game, the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on Jan. 1. The Huskies trailed Florida State by only 7 points heading into the fourth quarter, but ended up losing, 31-10.
10. John Rey elected DeKalb’s mayor
Rey won a four-way race for DeKalb’s top elected seat in March against Jennifer Groce, the former head of Re:New DeKalb; Mike Verbic, a DeKalb School District 428 board member, and 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson.
Rey, a retired DeKalb Ag/Monsanto employee, announced his candidacy in October 2012, just a couple of weeks after then-Mayor Kris Povlsen announced he would not seek another term.
Readers’ top 10 stories:
1. Jordan Lynch leads NIU to Poinsettia Bowl, is Heisman finalist.
2. FBI searches NIU police station.
3. Billy Curl gets 37-year sentence in killing of Toni Keller.
4. NIU football team begins year with Orange Bowl.
5. Donald Grady fired as NIU police chief.
6. Corn Fest returns to downtown DeKalb.
7. Search for Buddy the dog.
8. IHSA football championships come to Huskie Stadium.
9. Sycamore football team wins first NI Big 12 East title, reaches state semifinals.
10. Douglas Baker named new NIU president.